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Advisors: Jack Waddey says 'Nashville still needs major research park'
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DESPITE Nashville's progress on many fronts since The Great Recession began in Spring 2008, attorney Jack Waddey on May 12 confirmed for Venture Nashville that he feels just as strongly today as he did nine years ago that creation of a major Nashville research park could dramatically accelerate development of this city's high-tech economy.

VNC originally reported Waddey's views April 8, 2008. He is now partner and IP practice group leader at Waller Lansden in Nashville. He holds a JD from Georgetown University and an Auburn aerospace engineering degree.

It's important to acknowledge that in the course of nearly a decade since Waddey addressed this issue publicly, Nashville-centered research, technology, education, entrepreneurship and other pursuits have advanced and expanded.

The city's primary Entrepreneur Center is now six years old, there's fresh talk of a lifescience hub in Williamson County; Vanderbilt University's Wond'ry innovation center and its strategic plan are moving along, while healthcare corporates are innovating in the face of economic, political and technological pressures.

Also, Tennessee State University has joined the Association of University Research Parks (AURP), an AURP source told Venture Nashville.

VNC has asked TSU officials whether or not TSU's joining AURP might be aimed at advancing TSU's proposed "Cumberland City" project, an 80-acre mixed-use community concept that includes education and research, technology, business incubation, residential and other components. This story will be updated as warranted.

Jack Waddey Esq

Waddey's original tough-love diagnosis and prescription for advancing high-tech Nashville seems relevant today. Readers' comments are welcomed. An adapted version follows:

First, Waddey warned in 2008 -- as others have before and since -- that [the success of Nashville companies] in privatizing services has come with a hidden cost: Service-oriented ventures involve scant IP or technology, and are thus hard to protect from competitors.

Yet, he said, largely because of the wealth culture created by the [for-profit healthcare services] Big Boom, Waddey believes that while most Nashville entrepreneurs are hungry for "business opportunities," they have little or no interest in being part of the "heavy lifting" of research that would produce new ideas and products.

Waddey also observed in 2008 that past political and institutional leadership had not been adequate to galvanize all stakeholders. He urged then that State and City chief executives assign high priority to creation of a research center for Nashville, a community that would leverage and augment Vanderbilt University, in particular.

Waddey cited Huntsville's Cummings Research Park as a prime example of what a city can do. Thanks in part to momentum provided by government and industry, Cummings is said to be second only to the 7,000-acre Research Triangle Park in scope and activity. [In 2008, RTI had 157 companies and now has more than 200. It then had more than 40K employees and contractors and now boasts more than 50,000 workers.]

The Association of University Research Parks (AURP) earlier reported the existence of nearly 200 university-linked parks in the nation, most of them relatively small. There's no AURP park in Nashville. A 2007 Battelle report provides a virtual blueprint for what any community could attempt in fostering high-knowledge, high-paying ventures. The reports stresses growing indigenous innovative companies, rather than relying on recruiting industry from elsewhere.

There's no mystery in the process, Waddey emphasized, but it requires sustained effort. After all, RTI was founded in 1958, and the Park got its first corporate resident in 1960. Waddey said Nashville civic and business leaders must come to understand that if they're not willing to "get behind" the local tech economy, "then no matter how much we talk about it, it isn't going to happen."

Clearly frustrated, Waddey said, "Nashville is a fabulous city. It ought to blow the socks off North Carolina in terms of attractiveness." Instead, he observed in 2008, Nashville is assembling computers for Dell, rather than "designing the next wave."

The problem, he contends, is that Nashville technology has long been "the red-headed stepchild at a church picnic." He likens it to the way the Music industry was treated, until fairly recently.

Plenty of folks want to jump onboard after someone hits a homerun, said Waddey, but few will take the risks associated creating a knowledge foundation for Nashville. Consequently, Silicon Valley, Austin, Boston, RTI and Huntsville are among the exemplars.

Waddey wondered aloud in 2008 about the emergence of new technology hubs, asking "What's the next big one that's coming along?

"Why couldn't it be Nashville?" VNC

. last edited 26 May 2017

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Tags: Association of University Research Parks, healthcare, Jack Waddey, research, Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, Waller Lansden

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